The Obwalden cantonal archive is the official keeper of the White Book of Sarnen. This volume was written sometime around 1470 by Hans Schriber, Obwalden's then civic recorder.
Although the name of the White Book (Ger: Weisses Buch) might derive from its white-brownish cover, it more likely stems from the purpose for which it was intended, namely to provide instruction (unterweisen) about legal relationships (first part) and mythical-historical events (second part).
The first part consists of some 350 pages and contains transcripts of documents that were important for Obwalden.
Much of the second part tells of the people of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwald originally descending from Romans and Swedes, of the oppression of the three cantons by Habsburg bailiffs, of the establishment of a federation of resistance by the three cantons on the Rütli, of the expulsion of the Habsburg bailiffs, of the destruction of their castles and of the gradual emergence of the eight-canton Old Confederacy.
It is this second part that constitutes the actual historical significance of the White Book. Namely, it contains the first coherent portrayal of the liberation struggle as the founding myth of the Swiss Confederation, which went on to acquire world fame through the chroniclers Aegidius Tschudi and Johannes von Müller, as well as Friedrich Schiller's William Tell. This myth has continued to define Swiss historical consciousness to the present day.
The White Book of Sarnen was digitised in 2012 as part of the e-codices project (Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland, University of Fribourg) and can be consulted on the internet.