Introduction to Geographic Models

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  • 0:04 Geographic Models
  • 0:52 Why Use Models?
  • 2:06 Types of Models
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

How do you test a hypothesis that's hard to see and control? How about using models? In this lesson, we'll examine geographic models and see how they help geographers explore their theories.

Geographic Models

Look to your left. Now look to your right. You know what's all around you? Space. Lots and lots of it. It's the job of geographers to study not only the physical characteristics of all this space in terms of landforms and features but also to study your relationship to it. That's a big project.

To help start contextualizing and analyzing all this information, geographers will often start by using models. Don't think of models as painted miniatures of the earth; that's not what we're talking about here. When we talk about models in this context, we're talking about theories, or frameworks used to present ideas about how things should occur within physical space. Understanding these is the first step to turning yourself into a model geographer.

Why Use Models?

Models are structured theories that hypothesize how things relate or transpire within physical space. They aren't always accurate, and they're not always what we see in the real world. So why use models?

Models allow geographers to take lots of complex information about the physical world and our places in it, and start identifying patterns and trends. To explain these patterns, geographers created models that seek to explain the phenomenon being observed. In this sense, models are predictive, which means they explain the sorts of physical trends we should see if the conditions of the model are correct. This becomes a consistent way for us to start testing geographical information, which isn't always easy to collect.

If what we see in the real world correlates with the model, we can argue that the conditions of the model accurately reflected reality. If not, we can ask why and use the model as a starting point to understand what's really happening. Sometimes a model will be accurate in one place but inaccurate in another, so this provides a consistent framework for comparison. Overall, models are useful tools to help us start synthesizing and researching geographic information.

Types of Models

Geography is a broad field, so there are many questions to ask and many different models used to predict the answers. In general, however, there are three broad categories of models that you'll encounter frequently.

1. Spatial Models

Perhaps the most common type of geographic model is the spatial model, which defines data points in set, determined physical space. Spatial models show where things are, where they should be, and how they move through physical space. These models can be used to physically map out the ways that people interact with geographic landforms, the ways they communicate or interact with each other across physical space, or the networks they create and how those expand throughout real, defined space.

There's a lot that can be done with spatial models, and geographers embrace a wide range. Von Thunen's Land Use Model, for example, predicts that farmers will base crop choices on the physical, spatial relationship between their farm and the markets.

2. Urban Models

Many geographers, particularly in human geography, have developed strong focuses on urban or constructed landscapes. Since these physical spaces are purely constructed, we have to understand them a little differently, so geographers have a distinct set of frameworks they can use called urban models to explain the physical dimensions of cities and people's interactions with that space. The biggest difference between spatial and urban models is just this explicit focus on constructed landscapes; otherwise they're pretty similar.

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