One Yale professor and two alumni will receive the nation’s highest honor for scholarship in the humanities today.

Yale history professor John Gaddis and alumni Richard Gilder ’54 and Lewis Lehrman ’60 will be presented with 2005 National Humanities Medals by President George W. Bush ’68 in a private White House ceremony in the Oval Office. This year, there are eight other recipients of the award, as well as one award for a scholarly research project.

Winners of the medal must be nominated by other scholars and are passed through review by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Council on the Humanities, a group of 26 citizens appointed by the president, NEH spokesman Noel Milan said. The president makes the final decision on awarding the medals to specific individuals, Milan said.

Gaddis, a preeminent Cold War historian, said he was surprised and honored to receive the award.

“My reaction, I guess, was similar to what most people’s reaction would be,” Gaddis said. “Total surprise. I had no idea that it was being contemplated.”

History professor Donald Kagan, a 2002 recipient of the medal, said he thinks Gaddis’ teaching and scholarship make him a worthy honoree.

“I can’t imagine anybody who deserves it more,” Kagan said. “He’s a marvelous and courageous scholar and certainly one of the greatest teachers in the country, and a great colleague.”

Gaddis, who has taught at Yale since 1997 and won the Phi Beta Kappa William Clyde DeVane Award for undergraduate teaching in 2003, is the Robert A. Lovett professor of history. He chairs the International Affairs Council at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and was a historical consultant for the award-winning CNN documentary “Cold War.”

Gilder and Lehrman, who together established the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale in 1998, both said they have worked to spread an appreciation for American history by opening various avenues of study.

“I was deeply gratified and thrilled,” Lehrman said in an e-mail. “Dick Gilder and I share an abiding love of American history and the contribution of every American citizen to this great story. We have tried to establish institutions that help Americans to rediscover their heritage and their common national identity.”

Gilder and Lehrman decided to create the center after hearing a lecture delivered by Yale professor emeritus David Brion Davis, Gilder said, because it inspired them to search for new ways to convey knowledge about slavery and other racial issues.

“It just seemed to me that this was a very important educational opportunity,” Gilder said. “[To show] how vast, how all-encompassing this was, how important, not just for the cultural damage that [slaves] had to endure, but for the economic and religious differences.”

The two men are also the founders and sponsors of three book prizes for work on American history — the Lincoln Prize, the Frederick Douglass Book Award and the George Washington Book Prize.

Two other recipients have affiliations with Yale — professor emeritus Walter Berns and Eva Brann GRD ’56, a professor at St. John’s College in Annapolis. The humanities medal was first awarded in 1989 as the Charles Frankel Prize and honors individuals and organizations whose work has contributed to the nation’s understanding of the humanities.