Schangnau village and the Hohgant. The mountains around Schangnau provided timber, meadows for cattle and brought tourists to the municipality
Schangnau is first mentioned in 1306 as Schoengowe.
By the 14th century the Ministerialis (unfree knights in the service of a feudal overlord) family of Sumiswald, in service to the Kyburgs, owned most of the village. Between 1363 and 1389 they sold their land and rights to the local nobleman Jost von Wald. His descendents sold the village to the city of Bern in 1420. By the second half of the 15th century both Bern and Lucerne claimed the village as they attempted to expand their borders to the detriment of the other. In 1470 a border treaty established Bernese ownership over Schangnau.
Originally Schangnau and the nearby village of Marbach, today a part of Escholzmatt-Marbach in the Canton of Lucerne, formed part of the parish of Trub. In 1524 the two villages broke away from Trub to form the parish of Marbach-Schangnau. A few years later, in 1528, Bern adopted the new faith of the Protestant Reformation and the village converted. A Reformed church was built in Schangnau in 1536 and in 1594 it separated from Marbach to form a parish. The village church was replaced with a new building in 1618. In the 17th century, as religious tension increased in Switzerland, Schangnau's location on the border with Catholic Lucerne became important. After the first First War of Villmergen in 1656, Bern made Protestant Schangnau into a market town to offset the nearby Catholic market town of Escholzmatt.
Historically the local economy was based on raising crops on the valley floor, seasonal alpine herding and transporting timber down the Emme River. The Bubenalp alpine meadow appears in a record in 1281, earlier than the village itself. By the 15th century, much of the mountain forest had been cleared to provide pastures for cattle. A small glass factory opened in the village in 1720, but was overshadowed by the larger factory in Entlebuch. Following the 1798 French invasion, Schangnau became part of the Helvetic Republic district of Oberemmental. With the collapse of the Republic and the 1803 Act of Mediation it became part of the Signau district, where it remained until the district was dissolved in 2009.
In the 19th century the Wiggen, Eggiswil and Schallenberg Pass roads connected the village with the rest of the country. The completion of a station on the Bern-Luzern Railroad in 1875 made it even easier to travel. However, very little industry settled in the municipality and agriculture and the dairy industry provided the majority of jobs. Even in 2005, over half of all jobs in Schangnau were in agriculture, while only 14% were in industry. The Kemmeribodenbad Inn at the foot of the Hohgant opened in 1835 and provided the start of a small tourism industry.