In the first third of the twentieth century, neuropathology seemed to offer the key to unlock the causes of psychiatric illness. Among the top centers devoted to the microscopic anatomy of the brain was that of Károly Schaffer in Budapest. Schaffer, a pioneer in the histopathology of Tay–Sachs–Schaffer disease, was also a charismatic teacher, bringing forth a school of investigators in psychopathology. Among them was László Meduna, who originated convulsive therapy. Despite the importance of the Schaffer school, it is almost unknown outside of Hungary, largely the result of the introduction of neurophysiological, neurochemical and molecular genetic methods that distracted attention away from histopathological contributions in psychiatry after the Second World War. The microscopic study of the brain and its diseases seemed increasingly less important.
The present biographical account of Károly Schaffer and his school seeks to bring this important story in the early history of biological psychiatry to a wider audience and explain why it has since been forgotten.