This article explores the global dimensions of an extreme climatic anomaly characterised by a series of El Niño events observable during the late eighteenth century. While similar events, comparable in their extent and severity, can be detected during earlier centuries, archival and physical data available for a later period suggest that the consequences of the El Niño of 1788-96 were most dramatic. Reconstructing this event may be a useful analogue in understanding the effects of comparable phenomena further back in time, especially where data is sparse. This article investigates the shocks triggered off on a global scale by El Niño events that became part of a conjuncture affecting economic systems, intellectual and administrative responses to issues of environment, and popular unrest. The precise relationship between an anomalous climatic situation and revolutionary upheaval, as in the case of France in the late 1780s and 1790s, is still open to discussion. The study of climatic stresses is however important to be able to contextualise a historical phenomenon on a global matrix. It now appears that the history of the Great El Niño of the 1790s can help to illuminate a much larger picture of world history during the last 5,000 years, especially in understanding the connections between El Niño events and the shocks such anomalies have periodically administered to the world economic system.